The Public Good
"HOLY TERROR": THE IMPLICATIONS OF TERRORISM MOTIVATED BY A RELIGIOUS IMPERATIVE
RAND Paper P-7834, 1993
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"HOLY TERROR"1: THE IMPLICATIONS OF TERRORISM MOTIVATED BY A RELIGIOUS IMPERATIVE
DR. BRUCE HOFFMAN. RAND
Religion and terrorism share a long history. Indeed, many of the words we use in the English language to describe terrorists and their acts are derived from the names of religious groups active several centuries ago. The etymology of "zealot," 2 for example, can be traced back to a millenarian Jewish sect who fought against the Roman occupation of what is now Israel between 66-73 A.D.3 The Zealots waged a ruthless campaign of both individual assassination and wholesale slaughter, employing a primitive form of chemical warfare: poisoning wells and granaries used by the Romans and even sabotaging Jerusalem's water supply.4 The word "assassin" 5 is similarly derived from a religious terrorist group, in this case a radical offshoot of the Muslim Shi'a who, between 1090-1272 A.D., fought the Christian Crusaders attempting to conquer present-day Syria and Iran.6 Literally "hashish-eater," the assassin would ritualistically imbibe hashish before committing murder: an act regarded as a sacramental or divine duty designed to hasten the new millennium. An additional perhaps even more compelling-motivation was the promise that, should the assassin perish in the course of his act, he would immediately ascend to a glorious heaven: thus fostering an ethos of self-sacrifice and suicidal martyrdom 7 that is apparent in some Muslim terrorist movements today.
Finally, the appellation "thug" 8 comes from an Indian religious association of professional robbers and murderers who, from the seventh century until their suppression in the mid-19th century, systematically strangled wayward travelers as sacrificial offerings to Kali, the Hindu goddess of terror and destruction. Estimates put the number of persons murdered by the Thugs during their six hundred year existence as between 500,000 and a million: an astonishing death toll considering, on the one hand, that each victim was individually strangled and, on the other, that the Thugs' modern- day terrorist counterparts have rarely been able to achieve anywhere close to the annual average of Thug murders despite more efficacious and increasingly lethal weaponry.9
In fact, as David C. Rapoport points out in his seminal study of "holy terror," until the nineteenth century and the advent of nationalism, anarchism, and Marxist ideology, "religion provided the only acceptable justifications for terror."10 Thus, while the relationship between terrorism and religion is not new, in recent decades this form of terrorism has largely been overshadowed be ethnic- and nationalist-separatist or ideologically motivated terrorism.11
For example, none of the 13 identifiable terrorist groups active in 1968 (the year credited with having marked the advent of modern, international terrorism) could be classified as "religious." Today, at least twenty percent of the approximately 50 known terrorist groups active throughout the world can be described as having a dominant religious component or motivation. Admittedly, many contemporary terrorist groups -- such as the Provisional Irish Republic Army, their Protestant counterparts in Northern Ireland, the Palestine Liberation Organization, various Armenian terrorist movements, and both the Tamil Tigers and J.V.P. in Sri Lanka -- have a strong religious element. But the political aspect is the dominant characteristic of these groups, as evidenced by the preeminence of their nationalist or irredentist aims.
What is particularly striking about "holy terror" compared to purely "secular terror," however, is the radically different value systems, mechanisms of legitimization and justification, concepts of morality, and Manichean world view that the "holy terrorist" embraces. For the religious terrorist, violence first and foremost is a sacramental act or divine duty executed in direct response to some theological demand or imperative.
Terrorism assumes a transcendental dimension,12 and its perpetrators are thereby unconstrained by the political, moral, or practical constraints that seem to affect other terrorists. Whereas secular terrorists generally consider indiscriminate violence immoral and counterproductive,13 religious terrorists regard such violence not only as morally justified, but as a necessary expedient for the attainment of their goals. Thus, religion serves as a legitimizing force - conveyed by sacred text or imparted via clerical authorities claiming to speak for the divine.
Religious and secular terrorists also differ in their constituencies. Whereas secular terrorists attempt to appeal to a constituency variously composed of actual and potential sympathizers, members of the communities they purport to "defend," or the aggrieved people they claim to speak for; religious terrorists are at once activists and constituents engaged in what they regard as a "total war." They execute their terrorist acts for no audience but themselves. Thus the restraints on violence that are imposed on secular terrorists by the desire to appeal to a tacitly supportive or uncommitted constituency are not relevant to the religious terrorist. Moreover, this absence of a constituency in the secular terrorist sense leads to a sanctioning of almost limitless violence against a virtually open-ended category of targets-that is, anyone who is not a member of the terrorists' religion or religious sect. This explains the rhetoric common to "holy terror" manifestos describing persons outside the terrorists' religious community in denigrating and de-humanizing terms such as, "infidels," "non- believers," "children of Satan," and "mud people."
The deliberate use of such adjectives to condone and justify terrorism is significant, in that it further erodes the constraints on violence and bloodshed by portraying the terrorists' victims as either "sub-human" or "unworthy" of living.
In addition, where the aims of the "secular political" terrorists can be described as utilitarian-seeking to bring about changes to achieve the greatest benefits for the greatest number- the aims of "religious political" terrorists are more accurately defined as the attainment of the greatest possible benefits for themselves and their co-religionists only. This further engenders a tremendous disparity between ends and means. Where the secular terrorist sees violence primarily as a means to an end, the religious terrorist tends to view violence as an end in itself.
Finally, religious and secular terrorists have starkly different perceptions of themselves and their violent acts. Where secular terrorists regard violence as a way of instigating the correction of a flaw in a system that is basically good or as a means to foment the creation of a new system, religious terrorists see themselves not as components of a system worth preserving, but as "outsiders," and therefore seek vast changes in the existing order.14 This sense of alienation also enables the religious terrorist to contemplate far more destructive and deadly types of terrorist operations than secular terrorists and indeed to embrace a far more open-ended category of "enemies" for attack. Taheri, for example, ascribes three key differences in this respect between Islamic terrorism and secular forms of terrorism:
First; it rejects all the contemporary ideologies in their various forms; it sees itself as the total outsider with no option but to take control or to fall, gun in hand...
The second characteristic that distinguishes the Islamic version from other forms of terrorism is that it is clearly conceived and conducted as a form of Holy War which can only end when total victory has been achieved...
The third specific characteristic of Islamic terrorism is that it forms the basis of a whole theory both of individual conduct and of state policy. To kill the enemies of Allah and to offer the infidels the choice between converting to Islam or being put to death is the duty of every individual believer, as well as the supreme--if not the sole--task of the Islamic rtsta.15
Indeed, at the root of the decade-long Islamic terrorist campaign backed by Iran has been the desire to extend throughout the world the fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic law in Iran and, indeed, to export the revolution that established the Iranian Islamic Republic to other Muslim counties. As the late Ayatollah Khomeini declared,
"We must strive to export our Revolution throughout the world, and must abandon all idea of not doing so, for not only does Islam refuse to recognize any difference between Muslim countries, it is the champion of all oppressed people.... We must make plain our stance toward the powers and superpowers and demonstrate to them despite the arduous problems that burden us. Our attitude to the world is dictated by our beliefs." 16
The revolution in Iran, accordingly, is held up as an example to Muslims throughout the world to reassert the fundamental teachings of the Koran and to resist the intrusion of Western--particularly United States--influence over the Middle East. This is also a reflection of the beliefs and history of Shi'a Islam as interpreted by Khomeini and subscribed to by his followers in Iran and other Middle Eastern countries. Three desiderata form the basis of this ideology:
First, Shiites do not believe in the legitimate authority of secular governments. The 12th and last of the Shiite Imams, or successors to the Prophet Mohammed, is expected to reappear eventually to institute the rule of God's law on earth. Until then, all states are, on some level, inalienably illegitimate. Since Iran is the only state to have begun to implement 'true' Islam, however, it is thought to be the world's only legitimate state with a unique obligation of facilitating the worldwide implementation of Islamic law. Force and violence are not only acceptable but necessary means of doing so...
Second, the Shiites see themselves as a persecuted minority. They believe that through their special knowledge of the Koran ... passed on to them by the Prophet Mohammed and the 12 Imams, they are the righteous few dominated by an innately wrongful majority...
Third, the Shiites view themselves as victims of injustice and oppression. Ayatollah Khomeini has interpreted this theme to make the Shiites the representatives, even vanguard, of the "oppressed and innocent masses crushed under foot all over the world." 17
This sense of alienation and of the necessity for far- reaching changes in the world order is apparent in the works of a number of Shi'a theologians. "The world as it is today is how others shaped it," wrote Ayatollah Baqer al-Sadr. "We have two choices: either to accept it with submission, which means letting Islam die, or to destroy it, so that we can construct the world as Islam requires." Mustafa Chamran has stated, "We are not fighting within the rules of the world as it exists today. We reject all those rules," Or, as Hussein Mussawi, the former leader of Lebanon's Hezbollah, who was assassinated last year in an Israeli helicopter assault once remarked: "We are not fighting so that the enemy recognizes us and offers us something. We are fighting to wipe out the enemy" 18
Nor are such sentiments restricted to radical Shi'a only. Militant Sunni fundamentalist organizations portray their struggle in similarly uncompromising terms. The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement, better known by its Arabic acronym, Hamas, for example, bluntly states that, "Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it." More pointed is the call to arms issued by one of the movements' senior clerics, Imam Sheikh Ahmad Ibrahim, who reportedly declared that, "Six million descendants of monkeys i.e., Jews now rule in all the nations of the world, but their day, too, will come. Allah! Kill them all, do not leave even one." 19
The record of terrorist acts by Shi'a Islamic groups reinforces the causal link between terrorism motivated by a religious imperative and the high levels of lethality compared to secular terrorist organizations. Although these groups have committed only eight percent of all international terrorist incidents since 1982, they are nonetheless responsible for 30 percent of the total number of persons killed in terrorist acts throughout the world.20 Moreover, contrary to its depiction and discussion in Western news accounts, terrorism motivated by religion is by no means a phenomenon restricted to radical Islamic terrorist groups in the already violent Middle East. Many of the same characteristics of Shita terrorist groups -- the legitimization of violence based on religious precepts, the sense of alienation, the existence of a terrorist movement in which the activists are the constituents, and preoccupation with the elimination of a broadly defined category of enemies" -- are also apparent among militant Christian white supremacists in the United States and at least some radical Jewish messianic terrorist movements in Israel.
Both groups have described indiscriminate violence not only as morally justified but as an expedient toward the attainment of the religious and racial "purification" of their respective countries. Indeed, the elimination of whole segments of society is in fact a major objective of the white supremacists and, in at least one major incident, was the aim of the Jewish terrorists as well. In 1987, for example, 14 American white supremacists were indicted on federal charges of plotting to engage in indiscriminate, mass killing through the poisoning of municipal water supplies in two major American cities.21 Similarly, in 1984, a group of Israeli religious fanatics were convicted of plotting to blow up the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, Islam's third holiest shrine, in part to provoke a cataclysmic holy war between Moslems and Jews that would force the Jewish Messiah to intervene.22
That the Christian white supremacists in the U.S. attempted such an operation is perhaps not surprisingly given the movement's strident theology.23 It encompasses a shared hostility to any form of government above the country level; the vilification of Jews and non-whites as "the literal children of Satan;" an obsession with achieving the religious and racial purification of the United States; a belief in a conspiracy theory of powerful Jewish interests controlling the government, banks, and the media; and advocacy of the overthrow of the United Stated government of "Zionist Occupation Government" (ZOG), as they disparagingly refer to it. The unifying thread in this patchwork of beliefs is the so-called Christian Identity movement.24 The basic tenants of the Identity movement include the beliefs that Jesus Christ was not a Semite, but an Aryan; that the Lost Tribes of Israel are composed not of Jews, but of "blue eyed Aryans;" that white Anglo-Saxons and not Jews are the "the Chosen People;" and, that the United States is the "Promised Land." In this context, Jews are viewed as impostors and children of Satan who must be exterminated. At the center of the white supremacists movement has been the organization known as the Aryan Nations and its Church of Jesus Christ-Christian. The ideology espoused by the organization is a mixture of racist and seditious dicta.
"WE BELIEVE," a brochure entitled This is Aryan Nations explains, "there is a battle being fought this day between the children of darkness (today known as Jews) and the children of light (God), the Aryan race, the true Israel of the Bible...
"WE BELIEVE in the preservation of our race individually and collectively as a people as demanded and directed by God. We believe a racial nation has a right and is under obligation to preserve itself and its members... As His divine race, we have been commissioned to fulfill His divine purpose and plans...
WE BELIEVE that there is a day of reckoning. The usurper will be thrown out by the terrible might of Yahweh's people as they return to their roots and their special destiny.25"
Indeed, the "Aryan National State Platform" cites as Article Viii that "A ruthless war must be waged against any whose activities are injurious to the common interest."26 This "cleansing" of the United States forms an immutable point of reference for the white supremacists' ideology. "Aliens are pouring over as a flood into each of our ancestral lands," Aryan Nations founder and leader Richard Girnt Butler has written, "threatening dispossession of the heritage, culture, and very life blood of our posterity.... We know that as we return to our Father's natural Life Order, all power, prosperity, and liberty again comes to us as our possession, to establish justice forever on earth."27
Robert Matthews, the deceased leader of an Aryan Nations splinter group called The Order, once declared that in order to stem this tide, all Jews, black, Hispanics, other "mud people," along with so-called white race traitors" must be exterminated in what he described as "a racial and religious Armageddon."28 It is particularly alarming that the white supremacists' expressed raison d'etre -- racism, anti-Semitism and sedition -- is justified and legitimized on theological grounds. It is at once a political and grassroots religious movement. The leaders of the movement portray themselves as "pastors" and "reverends" and attempt to endow their organizations with a theological veneer that condones and justifies violence. In an article entitled, An All White Nation?--Why Not?, Roy B. Masker has explained how Aryan Nations members "are in disobedience to our Father and God, Yahweh, for allowing the Nation He gave us to become the mongrelized cesspool in which we now find ourselves .... Indeed, it is incumbent upon us to BUILD A NEW, ALL-WHITE NATION! We are under command to do so! All scripture demands it! ," Masker concludes with the admonition, "Woe to those who stand in the way of the Aryan juggernaut!"29
The white supremacists, accordingly, do not appear to exhibit any of the political, moral, or practical considerations that constrain most other terrorist groups from causing mass- scale death and destruction. There are, in fact, striking parallels between these groups and religiously motivated Islamic Shi'a fanatics in the Middle East. Both groups transform abstract political ideologies and objectives into a religious imperative. Violence is not only sanctioned, it is divinely decreed. Hence, the killing of persons described as "infidelsts by the Shita or as "children of Satan" or grace traitors" by the white supremacists thus becomes a sacramental act.
Although the white supremacists have thus far caused far less death and destruction bloodshed than the Islamic Shi'a terrorists, evidence has come to light that at least some white supremacists had laid plans to engage in indiscriminate, mass killing. According to the federal grand jury indictment previously cited, white supremacists from throughout the United States and Canada met at the Aryan Nations headquarters in Idaho in 1983 to plot the forcible overthrow of the federal government and the creation of a separate Aryan nation within the United States. The indictment states that they planned to "carry out assassinations of federal officials, politicians and Jews, as well as bombings and polluting of municipal water supplies.30 Any doubts of their seriousness of purpose were dispelled when police and federal agents raided a white supremacist compound in rural Arkansas in April 1984, and discovered a stockpile of some 30 gallons of cyanide to be used for this purpose.31
An identical scenario, in fact, is detailed in the novel, The Turner Diaries, 32 which has been cited as "the Bible" of the white supremacists.33 It describes a chain of events that begins with a white supremacist revolution in 1991 and culminates two years later in "an all-out race war" and worldwide nuclear conflagration. In the book, a terrorist group called The Order embarks on a ruthless campaign of violence involving the assassination of public officials and prominent Jews, the shooting down of commercial airliners, the poisoning of water supplies, and bombings of public utilities. The book reaches its climax when the terrorists seize the U.S. nuclear arsenal and obliterate several American cities before turning the weapons against targets in Israel and the Soviet Union.
As incredible and lunatic as the events in The Turner Diaries may seem,34 the strategy of the inchoate terrorist campaign waged in the United States between 1983 and 1984 by Robert Matthews and the real-life Order was based entirely on the battle plan detailed in the book. Furthermore, this apocalyptic vision forms an integral part of the beliefs of many white supremacists today. Whereas most people, for example, harbor deep fears of a nuclear war, many white supremacists appear to welcome the prospect as an opportunity to eliminate their avowed "enemies" and permit the fulfillment of their objectives to create a new world order peopled exclusively by the white race.
The self-described purpose of one of the Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord's former compound at Mountain Home, Arkansas (where the cyanide was discovered), for example, was "to build an Ark for God's people during the coming tribulations on the earth."35 Accordingly, the 100 or so men, women and children who lived in the compound prepared themselves for the coming Armageddon by stockpiling weapons, food, and valuables, and undergoing training in survivalist techniques and guerrilla warfare. As Terry Noble, a pastor and spokesman for the group once explained, "We are Christian survivalists who believe in preparing for the ultimate holocaust .... The coming war is a step toward God's government."36
A similar millenarian and apocalyptic vision is also evident in the belief system of a group of Jewish fanatics who plotted to blow up the Dome of the Rock in 1984. Significantly, the Jewish messianic terrorists like their white supremacist counterparts specifically sought the approval and sanction of their religious authorities. Indeed, the Jewish terrorists repeatedly made it clear to their leaders that they could not implement the group's battle plan without rabbinical blessing. When such permission was forthcoming, it was initially implemented in the noontime assault on an Islamic college in Hebron in July 1983, where three students were killed and 33 others wounded. Emboldened by the success of this operation and armed once again with rabbinic dispensation, the Jewish terrorists plotted an even more ambitious attack: the simultaneous bombings of buses carrying Arab passengers home on the Muslim sabbath. The plot was to attach explosive devices to the gas tanks of five buses that would be set to detonate at a time and place calculated to minimize the risk to any Jewish passersby. The bombs-and their placement beneath the fuel tanks-were designed to cause maximum destruction to the vehicles and death to their passengers. The operation, however, was foiled by the Israeli security service with the arrests of the bombers leading to the discovery of the Temple Mount plot. As Sprinzak points out in his study of the Jewish terrorist movement:
"Rabbinical involvement in the terror acts that did and did not take place during this period is of crucial importance. It tells us that the radicalization process that finally produced terrorism within Gush Emunim the radical Israeli settlers' movement, from which the terrorists came was not marginal but central.... Moreover a combination of messianic belief and a situation of continual national conflict with a built-in propensity for incremental violence resulted in extralegalism, vigilantism, selective terrorism, and finally, indiscriminate mass terrorism."37
Although millenarian and apocalyptic visions are less apparent in Sikh terrorism, the bloodshed currently unfolding in India's Punjab region nonetheless provides further evidence of the relationship between "holy terror" and increased lethality. The Sikhs, a modern-day offshoot of a Hindu reform movement founded in the Punjab four hundred years ago, are an amalgamation of different beliefs and practices lacking a strong theology of its own. As such, the Sikh faith has long struggled to differentiate itself and its followers from Hinduism: placing a strong emphasis on prominent religious symbols and means of personal identification involving the Golden Temple and sacred scriptures and individual accoutrements such as the wearing of the turban, long hair and beards, and carrying a dagger.38 Foremost among the Sikh's aims is independence from India and the establishment of a revitalized Sikh nation, called Khalistan- literally, "Land of the Pure." In this regard, the group has sought to cleanse the Punjab of "foreign influences" - an aim that led to the murder of 16 executives and technicians at a textile factory partly-owned by the American multi-national company, DuPont, in March 1992. An estimated 20,000 persons have been killed as result of Sikh violence during the past decade. In 1991 alone, a record 4,700 deaths occurred in the Punjab. Although the majority of the fatalities were members of the regions Hindu minority population, fellow Sikhs judged as traitors or apostates have also been targeted.
The Sikh attacks, one observer notes, are almost "entirely indiscriminate nature," with crowded passenger trains a favorite target. One hundred Hindu passengers were killed and 70 injured in two such attacks in 1991-additional attacks on rail traffic have individually claimed the lives of more than 50 persons and wounded upwards of 70 others.39
CONCLUSION: LIKELY FUTURE TRENDS OF "HOLY WAR"
In the past, most analyses of the possibility of mass indiscriminate killing involving chemical, biological, or nuclear terrorism have tended to discount it for several reasons. Few terrorists, it has been argued, know anything about the technical intricacies of either developing or then dispersing such weapons and the internal dynamics and decision making processes of terrorist groups were seen to inhibit sudden escalations or changes in either tactics or level of violence. Political, moral, and practical considerations were also perceived as important restraints on terrorist use of such weapons of mass destruction. It was also argued that there are few realistic demands that terrorists could make that could not be achieved by using or threatening to use more conventional weapons. Finally, and perhaps most important, as Brian Jenkins long ago noted, "simply killing a lot of people has seldom been one terrorist objective... Terrorists operate on the principle of the minimum force necessary. They find it unnecessary to kill many, as long as killing a few suffices for their purposes."40 While arguably still pertinent to most secular terrorists, these arguments seem less relevant to religious terrorists.
Moreover, today, when old empires and countries are crumbling and new ones are being built and when new assertions of religious and ethnic identity are made with uncompromising ferocity, the possession of a nuclear bomb or the development of a chemical or biological warfare capability may become increasingly attractive either to new nations seeking to present their sovereignty or to would-be nations seeking to attain their independence. In both instances, terrorists may find new roles for their skills and expertise. Terrorists may be employed by countries either to steal nuclear weapons or strategic material from another country or themselves be paid to stage a covert nuclear, chemical, or biological attack in order to conceal the involvement or complicity of their state patron. In the future, terrorists may become the "ultimate fifth column": a clandestine, cost-effective, force used to wage war covertly against more powerful rivals or to subvert neighboring countries or hostile regimes. In this respect, the lesson of Iraq's overt invasion of Kuwait loom large.
In particular, ethnic/religious fanaticism could more easily allow terrorists to overcome the psychological barriers to mass murder than a radical political agenda has in the past. Indeed, as contemporary terrorism is increasingly perpetrated by organizations with a predominant religious motivation or imperative, it is not unwarranted to look at these groups the most likely to cross this threshold. Among the incidents one can hypothesize are preemptive strikes utilizing weapons of mass destruction against allegedly predatory majorities or decisive blows dealt against ethnic or religious rivals before the international community can begin to debate, much less intervene, in a nascent conflict.
The volatile combination of religion and terrorism has been cited as one of the main reasons for terrorism's increased lethality. The fact that for the religious terrorist violence inevitably assumes a transcendent purpose and therefore becomes a sacramental or divine duty arguably results in a significant loosening of the constraints on the commission of mass murder. Religion, moreover, functions as a legitimizing force, sanctioning if not encouraging wide scale violence against an almost open-ended category of opponents. Thus religious terrorist violence becomes almost an end in itself-a morally justified, divinely instigated expedient toward the attainment of the terrorists' ultimate ends. This is a direct reflection of the fact that terrorists motivated by a religious imperative do not seek to appeal to any constituency but themselves and the changes they seek are not for any utilitarian purpose, but are only to benefit themselves. The religious terrorist moreover sees himself as an outsider from the society that he both abhors and rejects and this sense of alienation enables him to contemplate-and undertake-far more destructive and bloodier types of terrorist operations than his secular counterpart.
Given this constellation of characteristics, and convergence of motives and capabilities what targets might religious terrorists attack in the future and what tactics will they use? Predicting the future is arguably no less risky than defusing a terrorist bomb, but if indeed, "past is prologue," the future quite likely holds a number of chilling possibilities. First and foremost, in light of a series of seemingly unconnected terrorist incidents that occurred between last January and March-involving the bombing of New York City's World Trade Center, evidence of the existence of a nascent Abu Nidal terrorist infrastructure in the United States, the chain bombings that shook Bombay, and the mysterious -- still unexplained -- shootings that occurred outside the CIA headquarters in Langley last January, we may have to revise our notions of the stereotypical terrorist organization. In the past, terrorist groups were recognizable as a group of individuals belonging to an organization with a defined command and control apparatus, who were engaged in conspiracy as a full- time avocation, living underground and constantly planning and plotting terrorist attacks perhaps under the direct control or at the behest of a foreign government.
The seemingly amateurish World Trade Center bombers, however, may be the model of a new kind of terrorist group: a more or less ad hoc amalgamation of like-minded individuals-united by their religious beliefs and place of worship-who merely gravitate towards one another for a specific, perhaps even one time, operation. Essentially, part-time terrorists, such loose groups of individuals, may be indirectly influenced or remotely controlled by some foreign non-governmental or governmental entity. This new breed of part-time terrorists may represent even more of a threat than their predecessors. While less control from some central command authority may be exerted, this may also result in fewer constraints on the terrorists' operations and targets and fewer inhibitions on their desire to inflict indiscriminate casualties.41 The transnational Islamic extremist terrorist group, now active in the United States, known as Fuqra further illustrates this phenomenon. The group, an elitist religious sect originally from Pakistan, is believed to have been responsible for 17 bombings and assassinations since 1979 that have killed at least 12 persons. Some 1-3,000 members of the sect are scattered in compounds throughout the U.S. from which they wage a sporadic campaign against rival Muslim sects, Laotian Buddhist temples, Hindu temples, Jewish targets and all others they deem heretics, infidels or both.42
More specifically, the targets and tactics of "holy terror" operations that have occurred or been attempted during the past decade suggest the following manifestations of religious terrorism might materialize in far more ominous and destructive forms:
* Poisoning of the water supplies of major urban centers such as the American white supremacists have plotted and terrorists in India are alleged to have contemplated as well;
* Dispersal of toxic chemicals through internal building ventilation systems such as white supremacist "skin heads" attempted in Arizona;
* Indiscriminate, wanton attacks on crowded, busy urban centers such as Muslim terrorists are alleged to have done in Bombay this past February and March, killing more than 400 persons and injuring more than a 1,000 others;
* Attacks on power grids and attempts to disrupt electrical power to large population areas such as Fuqra did in Colorado; and,
* Poisoning of food as followers of the Bagwhan Rajneesh did in Oregon in order to influence a local election.43
Finally, we may also be on the cusp of a new, and potentially more dangerous, era of terrorism as the year 2000-the literal millennium-approaches. One cannot predict the effect that this pivotal symbolic watershed might have on religion-inspired terrorist groups who feel impelled either to hasten the redemption associated with the millennium through acts of violence or, in the event that the year 2000 passes and redemption does not occur, to attempt to implement Armageddon by the apocalyptic use of weapons of mass destruction.
Postscript (May 1995)
In the time since this paper was written, an obscure Japanese religious sect staged a chemical weapons attack on the Tokyo subway and an American white supremacist blew up a Federal government office building in Oklahoma City.
The March 1995 deadly nerve gas on the Tokyo underground clearly marks an historical watershed in terrorist tactics and weaponry. Previously, most terrorists had shown an aversion to the esoteric and exotic weapons of mass destruction popularised in fictional thrillers or depicted in action-hero films and television shows. Radical in their politics, the majority of terrorists were equally conservative in their operations. Indeed, from the time of the late 19th Century Russian anarchists and the Victorian-era Fenian dynamiters who terrorised London, terrorists have continued to rely almost exclusively on the same two weapons: the gun and the bomb. The sarin-induced deaths of a dozen commuters and the injuries inflicted to 5,000 others may have changed that forever. The ghastly genie of terrorist use of chemical and perhaps also biological warfare agents arguably is now out of the bottle. Although various terrorist groups -- Germany's Red Army Faction, Italy's Red Brigades, and some Palestinian organisations -- had occasionally toyed with the idea of using such lethally indiscriminate weapons, none had crossed the critical psychological threshold of actually implementing their heinous day-dreams or half-baked plots. Admittedly, in 1979 Palestinian terrorists had attempted to poison Jaffa oranges exported to Europe in hopes of sabotaging Israel's economy. Nearly a decade later minute traces of cyanide were discovered in Chilean grapes shipped to the U.S. following threats made by a left-wing Chilean group opposed to the Pinochet dictatorship. But these two, isolated incidents, were largely the extent of terrorist experimentation with such "non-conventional" tactics.
Instead, most terrorists seemed almost content with the limited killing potential of their handguns and machine-guns and the slightly higher rates that their bombs achieved: adhering to an established modus operandi that, to their minds at least, minimised failure and maximised success. What innovation did occur was mostly in the methods used to conceal and detonate explosive devices, not in the terrorists' choice of tactics or in their use of chemical, biological, or even crude nuclear weapons. Like most people, terrorists appeared to fear powerful contaminants and toxics they knew little about and, moreover, were uncertain how to fabricate and safely handle, much less effectively deploy and disperse.
The Aum Shinri Kyo sect's alleged use of sarin nerve gas, however, has demonstrated that it is possible to execute a chemical terrorist attack and has thereby likely raised the stakes for terrorists everywhere. Indeed, the pattern of terrorism over the past three decades suggests that many groups are impelled by an inner dynamic, an organisational imperative, towards escalation. Believing that the public and media have become inured or de-sensitised to the unending spiral of terrorist violence, these groups feel pushed to undertake ever more spectacular and destructively lethal deeds today in order to achieve the same effect a smaller action would have had ten or fifteen years ago. Accordingly, terrorist groups throughout the world may feel driven to emulate or create their own version of the Tokyo incident in order to attract attention to themselves and their causes.
The identity of the Tokyo attack's perpetrators has equally significant future implications. In the past, terrorist groups were recognisable primarily as numerically small bands of individuals belonging to an organisation with a defined set of political, social or economic objectives. However disagreeable or distasteful the traditional terrorist group's aims and motivations may have been, its ideology and intentions were at least comprehensible and perhaps even understandable -- albeit politically radical and personally fanatical. The Aum sect, however, may represent a new kind of terrorist threat posed, not by traditional secular adversaries, but by a mass religious movement motivated by a mystical, almost transcendental, divinely-inspired imperative.
In these respects there are enormous similarities between the Tokyo incident and the April 1995 car-bombing of a United States Government office building in Oklahoma City. Two men have been charged with the bombing: a 27 year old U.S. Army veteran, Timothy McVeigh, and Terry L. Nichols, a fellow veteran. McVeigh, an anti-government, right-wing extremist, reportedly engineered the attack with Nichols on the Federal office building to mark the second anniversary of the FBI's bloody assault on the Branch Davidian's Waco, Texas compound. Obsessed that the Waco raid represented the opening salvo in a U.S. government conspiracy to outlaw posession of fire-arms in the U.S. and further proscribe individual liberties, McVeigh and his alleged accomplice(s) appear to have acted from a combination of motives -- including vengeance, protest and resistance. Even more disquieting, as lunatic as such views and obsessive conspiracy theories sound, they are today held by a growing number of like-minded Americans.
The Michigan Militia, the 12,000-strong paramilitary, survivalist organisation that McVeigh has been linked to, for example, believes that the U.S. government has already intiated a programme to control completely the lives of every American. Accordingly, through training in guerrilla warfare and surivialist techniques, the militia prepares to resist what it maintains are plans by the Clinton administration to deploy United Nations forces utilizing cast-off Soviet military equipment or hordes of Communist Chinese troops, backed by Latino and black inner-city American street gangs, to crush any opposition.
An estimated 100 other similarly-oriented "militias" - - with upwards of 50,000 members -- have reportedly sprung up in at least 20 other states, stretching from Pennsylvania to California and Montana to Texas. These groups in fact are but the latest iterations of a radical right-wing cum, white supremacist movement that has repeatedly re-invented itself over the past decade in a bid to attract a more diverse constituency and larger number of adherents and supporters.
Although organised hate groups, many embracing similarly far-fetched conspiracy notions, such as the Ku Klux Klan, have existed in America for decades, the advent of extremist, white supremacist paramilitary groups oriented toward "survivalism," outdoor skills, guerrilla training, and outright sedition are a newer phenomenon.
The members of these groups are not full-time, "professional" terrorists -- like the more familiar Irish, Basque, Middle Eastern and left-wing extremists active in Europe throughout past two decades -- but consider themselves "minutemen": ordinary citizens and patriots ready to take up arms at a moment's notice to defend their inalienable rights. Self-styled heirs of the tradition of the American Revolution, it is therefore significant that the Oklahoma City bombing also took place on the date that the American Revolution commenced in Boston 220 years ago.
The aims and motivations of these extremist groups, however, span a broad spectrum of anti-federalist and seditious beliefs and religious hatred, masked by a transparent veneer of religious precepts. They are bound together by their shared hostility to any form of government above the county level, their vilification of Jews and non-whites as children of Satan; their obsession with achieving the religious and racial purification of the U.S.; their belief in a conspiracy theory of powerful Jewish interests controlling the government, banks and the media; and their advocacy of the overthrow of the U.S. government, or the ZOG (Zionist Occupation Government), disparagingly refer to it. It is particularly alarming that the white supremacists expressed raison d'etre -- racism, anti-Semitism and sedition -- is justified and legitimised on theological grounds. It is at once a political and grassroots religious movement. The leaders of the movement -- like the Michigan Militia's founder and "general", Pastor Norman Olson, the Idaho-based Aryan Nations' leader, Reverend Richard Girnt Bulter and, the Ku Klux Klan's Pastor Thom Robb -- cloak themselves with clerical titles in order to endow their organisations with a theological veneer that condones and justifies violence. Both the Tokyo incident and the Oklahoma City bombing demonstrate clearly that, contrary to popular belief, terrorism motivated by a religious imperative is not a phemonenon restricted only to Islamic groups exclusively from the Middle East, as many believed in the wake of the Oklahoma bombing for example. Rather it is a characteristic of emerging radical sects and religious movements everywhere.
The identity of both the Tokyo and Oklahoma City attacks' perpetrators is significant in other critical respects as well, particularly with regard to gvoernment countermeasures. Traditional approaches and policies in countering terrorism may not be relevant, much less effective, to the threat posed by religious terrorists. Political concessions, financial rewards, amnesties and other personal inducements would likely be ineffective, if not impractical given the religious terrorists' fundamentally alienated and polarised world view. Instead, a two-pronged course of action is needed. On the one hand, the profound sense of alienation and isolation of these cults and religious movements needs actively to be counteracted. A bridge needs to be found between mainstream society and the extremists so that they do not feel threatened and forced to withdraw into heavily-armed, seething compounds or to engage in pre-emptive acts of violence directed against what they regard as a menacing, predatory society. On the other hand, it is clear that we face a threat of new and profoundly lethal dimensions. Since the end of the Cold War, the world's intelligence agencies have been searching for a mission: with the Tokyo nerve-gas attack -- and its implications -- they have found it: counter-terrorism cum, counter-proliferation. It is imperative, therefore, if we are to defend adequately against these threats that our defences and attendant security measures are dynamic: able to respond as effectively as possible under the most difficult circumstances, keeping in mind all possibilities in mind at all times, so as to avoid surprises and be prepared for all contingencies. This is ineluctably an intelligence mission and should now be a priority.
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1 Paper presented at the "Worldwide Department of Defense Combating Terrorism Conference," Virginia Beach, VA, 8-11 June 1993.
2 "One who pursues his object with passionate ardour... an immoderate partisan, a fanatical enthusiast." The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 3868.
3 Walter Laqueur, Terrorism (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson,1977), pp. 7-8; and, David C. Rapoport, "Fear and Trembling: Terrorism in Three Religious Traditions," American Pollical Science Review, Vol. 78, No. 3, September 1984, pp. 668-672.
4 Laqueur, Terrorism, p. 8.
5 One who undertakes to put another to death by treacherous violence." The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, p. 125
6 The most detailed and comprehensive study of the group can be found in Bernard Lewis, The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam (London: Al Saqi Books, 1985).
7 See Ibid., passim; Laqueur, Terrorism, pp. 8-9; and, Rapoport, "Fear and Trembling: Terrorism in Three Religious Traditions," pp. 664-668.
8 "A vicious or brutal ruffian." The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, p. 3311.
9 Rapoport, "Fear and Trembling: Terrorism in Three Religious Traditions," pp. 660-664. It one accepts that upwards of a million persons may have been murdered by the Thugs, on average then, they killed 1,666 persons a year.
10 Ibid., p. 659.
11 Admittedly many "secular terrorist groups have a strong religious element as well: the PIRA, the Armenians, and perhaps the PLO as well. However, the political aspect is the predominant characteristic of these groups, as evinced by their nationalist or irredentist aims.
12 See, for example, Rapoport, "Fear and Trembling: Terrorism in Three Religious Traditions," p 674.
13 Brian M. Jenkins, The Likelihood Of Nuclear Terrorism (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, July 1985, P-7119), pp. 4-5.
14 See, for example, Amir Taheri, Holy Terror: The Inside Story of Islamic Terrorism (London: Sphere Books. Ltd.. 1987), pp. 7-8.
16 Imam Khomeini, Islam and Revolution (Trans. by Hamid Algar) (London: KPI, Ltd.,1981), pp. 286 va7
17 Marvin Zonis and Daniel Brumberg, "Behind Beirut Terrorism," New York Times, 8 October 1984.
18 Quoted in Taheri, Holy Terror, pp. 7-8.
19 Quoted in ADL Special Background Report, _Hamas, Islamic Jihad and The Muslim Brotherhood: Islamic Extremists and the Terrorist Threat to America_ (New York: Anti-Defamation League of Bnai Brith, 1993), p. 4.
20 According to The RAND Chronology of International Terrorism between 1982 and 1989 Shi'a terrorist groups committed 247 terrorist incidents but were responsible for 1057 deaths.
21 See Arkansas Gazette (Little Rock, Arkansas), April 27,1987 cited in Bruce Hoffman, Recent Trends and Future Prospects of Terrorism in the United States (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, R-3618, May 1988), p. 61.
22 Information provided to the author by an American law enforcement official. See also, Thomas L. Friedman, "Jewish Terrorists Freed By Israeli," New York Times, December 9, 1984; Grace Halsell, "Why Bobby Brown of Brooklyn wants to blow up Al Aqsa," Arabia, August 1984; Martin Merzer, "Justice for all in Israel?" Miami Herald, May 17,1985; and, "Jail Term of Jewish terrorist reduced," Jerusalem Post (International Edition), October 12,1985. The information pertaining to the terrorists' desire to provoke a cataclysmic holy war between Moslems and Jews was verified by an American law enforcement officer, involved with the investigation of Jewish terrorist incidents in the U.S. and knowledgeable of the Jerusalem incident.
23 For a detailed examination of many of these groups, see Michael Barkun, "Racist Apocalypse: Millennialism on the Far Right," American Studies 31 (1990), pp.121 -140. See also, the author's Terrorism in the United States and the Potential Threat to Nuclear Facilities (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, R-3351-DOE, January 1986), Present Trends and future Prospects of Terrorism in the United States (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, R-3618, April 1986); and, "Right-Wing Terrorism in the United States," VAT Journal, (Winter 1987).
24 The Identity movement is based on the Anglo-lsraelism movement which emerged in Great Britain during the mid-nineteenth century. Anglo-lsraelism embraced the notion that the ten lost tribes of ancient israel were in fact composed of Anglo-Saxons and not Jews. In contrast to the present-day movement in the United States, this earlier movement was a pacifistic movement.
25 This is Aryan Nations, brochure distributed by the Aryan Nations (undated).
26 Aryan Nations, Calling Our Nation, No. 53 (undated), p. 2.
27 "To Our New People," Open Letter from Richard G. Butler, Pastor, Aryan Nations (undated).
28 Quoted in Washington Post, 26 December 1984.
29 Roy B. Masker, "An All White Nation?--Why Not?," Aryan Nations, Calling Our Nation, No. S3, p. 23.
30 Arkansas Gazette (Little Rock), 27 April 1987.
31 Joseph M. Melnachak, "A Chronicle of Hate: A Brief History of the Radical Right in America," TVI Report, Vol. 6. No. 4 (undated), pp. 41-42. This was also confirmed to me by an FBI agent present at the raid.
32 Andrew MacDonald, The Turner Diaries (Arlington, VA: The National Alliance National Vanguard Books, 1985).
33 New York Times. 27 December 1984.
34 Turner's tale, although fictional, is in many ways like kind with Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf, which was not taken seriously at the time, only to be turned into terrible reality a mere ten years after its publication.
35 Quoted in Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, Hats Groups in America: A Record of Bigotry and Violence (New York: Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, 1982), p. s2.
36 Quoted in Ibid., pp. 51 and s3.
37 Ehud Sprinzak, The Ascendance of Israel's Radical Right (New York 8 Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp. 98-99.
38 Bernard Imhasly "A Decade of Terrorism in the Punjab," Swiss Review of World Affairs, March 1991 p.23
39 Ian Greig "The Punjab: Plagued By Tenor," Conflict International, July 1992.
40 Brian M. Jenkins, The Likelihood of Nuclear Terrorism (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, P-7119, July 1 985), p. 6.
41 Israeli authorities have noted this same pattern has emerged among terrorists belonging to the Hamas organization currently active in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in contrast to the more professional, centrally-controlled members of the mainstream Palestine Liberation Organization terrorist groups.. As one senior Israeli security official recently noted of a particularly vicious band of Hamas terrorists: they ' were a surprisingly unprofessional bunch . . . they had no preliminary training and acted without specific instructions." See Joel Greenberg, "Israel Arrests 4 In Police Death," New York Times, June 7, 1993; and Eric Silver, "The Shin Bet's 'Winning' Battle," The Jewish Journal (Los Angeles), June 11-17, 1993.
42 The most detailed published account of fuqra's history and activities can be found in Knut Royce, "Black Muslim Sect Scrutinized," New York Newsday, June 27, 1993.
43 Secular terrorists, it should be noted, have also attempted to poison food supplies, such as the Palestinian terrorists who poisoned Israeli oranges with mercury in 1979; the Tamil guerrillas who claimed to have contaminated Sri Lankan tea shipments in 1986; and, Chilean terrorists who claimed to have poisoned grapes exported from that country in 1988.
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